PH Women’s Football team plans to surprise in 2018 Asian Cup
MANILA, Philippines – After the Philippine Azkals clinched their first AFC Asian Cup berth on Tuesday, March 27, it's now time to turn our eyes on the Philippines Women's National Football Team (PWNFT) which will be competing in the AFC Women's Asian Cup themselves from April 6 to April 22 in Jordan.
This is the first senior national team in Philippine football history to reach the final stage of the Asian Cup after finishing runner-ups to Jordan in Group A of the qualification in April 2017.
In the upcoming tournament, the Philippines joins Jordan, China and Thailand in Group A. The draw bolsters the chances of Philippines in the Asian Cup as they have eluded football giants Japan, South Korea and Australia who are all grouped in Group B.
With this tournament, the PWNFT is at the helm of qualifying for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. Only the top 5 teams of the continental competition will advance to the world tournament in Paris, France.
Despite experiencing a 5-1 drubbing by Jordan in the qualifiers, the team is very confident of their chances in the Asian Cup.
Only 85% of the team who donned the Philippines' colors in Tajikistan last year will be suiting up for the Asian Cup itself, making it a big surprise on who will be in the final 23-woman line-up.
Although it was just on a short notice, current head coach Rabah Benlarbi only took up the post in the first week of March, and the team has only started training with him on March 6.
Frenchman Benlarbi has coached high-level teams such as Juventus FC, as well as the national teams of Myanmar, Japan and he was even the assistant coach of the China Women's Football Team – which the PWNFT will be facing in their second game of the tournament.
For co-captain Patrice Impelido and her team, they welcomed Benlarbi's coaching style as soon as they started training with him, claiming that he was very "organized" and his leadership was effective.
"I think a lot of the players enjoyed the training sessions from Coach Rabah," said Impelido. "His training sessions are very organized and he has an objective, and also there has been a progression."
In a span of less than a month, the veteran national team player noticed a big difference between the PWNFT's performances in the recent Japan training camp under Benlarbi compared to their first training camp in the US. The team also managed to win two friendlies against a college team and a pro team in Japan.
"There was a big difference from the training camp that we had in the States from the training camp we had here in Manila, and the training camp we had in Japan."
For Benlarbi, defeating Jordan in their opening matchup would be the first goal of the PWNFT as this will set the tone of the tournament. With a superior attacking team like Jordan, the Philippines will rely on their formation while manifesting the mind-set Benlarbi wants them to have.
"[The mind-set I want them to have is] to forget the football that they used to play in the US or in the Philippines," said Benlarbi.
"I want my players to continue movement, meaning I don't want any player [to be] walking, [they should] always move, giving speed to the ball and [they] must try every opportunity that [they] have to shoot and to score."
Being a former assistant coach in the China women's football team, Benlarbi knows that the China will be sending a young squad that will be missing the services of starting goalkeeper Zhao LiNa.
Zhao announced her retirement from the national team last February 12, citing personal reasons such as focusing on her club team. According to Benlarbi, however, Zhao's retirement might be due to tensions with the other members of the national team.
Benlarbi also took note of China's run in the recently concluded Algarve Cup – a global invitational tounament by the Portuguese Football Federation – that saw them finish at 11th place out of the 13 nations that joined.
"I think the weakness of China is visibly the goalkeeper, and the second thing is that they changed 7 players from the team that led them [to the] Olympic Games in Rio. These players coming from the youth team, the Under-19, they have little experience of the international level," explained Benlarbi.
As Benlarbi and the team thoroughly scouted their opponents, he made sure that their team will remain a surprise to everyone.
"[Keeping them out of the public spotlight] will help us because my preparations are short. I led the team since [March 6], so for me it's completely different," said Benlarbi.
The PWNFT will be leaving for Jordan on Easter Sunday, April 1. – Rappler.com